Tag Archives: Bangkok

Cambodia into Thailand overland….Back in the BKK, Again

Our trip from Sihanoukville, Cambodia into Thailand went pretty much how we predicted. Chaos and scams. We have yet to do a land crossing that hasn’t been ridiculous, so we were prepared. We took a tuk-tuk from the beach to the bus office, where we almost forgot our food bag (and discovered the rat from our previous accommodation had nibbled through it). Luckily, I spotted it out the window of the bus before we left. This is an important bag. The places the buses let you out for breaks tend to be over-priced and often not very clean. We always have snacks.

We had booked the bus to Koh Kong (on the Cambodia side of the border), but were actually able to take it all the way to the border, about 10 minutes further away. This saved us a couple of dollars and was much more convenient than finding a tuk-tuk (who will over-charge because they are the only other option). Having reached the border, we disembarked with all the other passengers, grabbed our bags and walked through the scorching sun to the departures and arrival building. This is where we encountered probably the biggest scam of our trip. The line for departures was only about 20 people deep when we arrived. So we stood in the sun and waited. And waited. And waited. The line barely moved. And this is why: There are a bunch of Cambodian guys who offer to take your passport for as much as $7 each and get the exit stamp for you. They are not official workers, just guys in polos and jeans. But what they can do, which we could not, is cut to the front of the line and pay off the guys behind the counter to stamp the passport faster. This just makes it even slower for the rest of us. Another reason the legitimate line is slow: they take your fingerprints. I’d like to point out here that they don’t take your fingerprints when you enter the country and Thailand doesn’t either across the border. And I have NEVER been finger-printed in my entire life. So what are they going to do with my fingerprints? Absolutely nothing. I purposefully put my fingers a bit sideways so they couldn’t have my full print. So there Cambodia. AND, the people who paid the $7 to expedite the stamp, they weren’t finger-printed either. After an hour of waiting, we finally got our stamp and were able to exit the country. And by that I mean, walk 100 meters down a dirt road to the Thailand arrivals counter, where it took less than 10 minutes to enter the country. No questions asked. Literally, none.

After all that, we were pleasantly surprised by our awaiting transport. We hopped in a spacious and air-conditioned minibus for the hour trip to Trat, where we planned to stay two nights before continuing onto Bangkok.

Trat is a jumping off point for some Thai islands, but it appears its glory days have ended. It used to get a lot more tourists, who had to stay over in Trat before continuing on after their trips to the islands. With more bus and boat options, you no longer have to spend so much time there and it appears not too many people do. We were only there to break up the 12 hour bus ride to Bangkok. It is a cool place though, small streets and many old buildings.

We spent that afternoon wandering around the city. They have an interesting short walkway along the water, complete with fire hose stations. The next day we went to the Trat Museum, which had loads of English signs, but not another soul besides us and the ticket lady. We also saw a wat or two. With decent wifi, we did a lot of research and caught up on blogging that night.

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Ice chipping store
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Lots of street art and murals around town
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Large mural of a picture we saw at the museum
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Windy elephant?
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Leaf notes
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More art
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So many unknowns in the market. Not brave enough to try
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Drying meat
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Different kind of art
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New Orleans: Canal Street Car Line New Orleans Real Estate

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The next morning we took the bus to Bangkok. We stayed at the same place we have stayed at the past few times we were there. This was our fourth trip to Bangkok and were only coming to catch a cheap flight to Myanmar. We spent one day wandering around Chinatown, which was in full swing as this was just before their New Year.

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That evening, Riki ordered the sauteed morning glory at one of our favorite cheap places. Unfortunately, his morning glory also came with two small pink worm-like bugs. When we showed the waitress, she squealed and jumped back. Good to know this is not a normal thing. She took 10 baht off our bill, a bargain, as lots of people actually pay to eat bugs in Bangkok.

Our last day in Bangkok we had an appointment to get our teeth cleaned (~$35 each), bought some more malaria medicine, did a little shopping and discovered our hotel had just built a pool. Score!

Next stop: Yangon (Rangoon), Myanmar

 

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Straight Vodka….Bangkok to Kathmandu & Beyond

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We spent our last few days in Bangkok researching about Nepal and wandering some neighborhoods we missed last time. We also switched hostels, from an interesting place on the water with a lot of character, but noisy toilets and questionable structural integrity to a place we had stayed before we went to Ayutthaya. We sacrificed windows and character for a/c and cleaner bathrooms.

We took the river ferry down to the skytrain and over to the commercial center full of shops and hotels. We didn’t have much success shopping for hats, but Riki found a smaller tripod so he can swap out his larger one when we meet up with my parents next week. The next day, we took the river ferry across to Wat Arun. The Thonburi neighborhood is one of the older ones and has lots of little side streets, as well as walkways along the water. And unlike Ayutthaya, the cats rule the streets here, not the dogs.

Good bread has been very hard to find and we have been craving it for awhile. Not far from the backpacker’s area in Bangkok, we found a great bakery with real bread run by ladyboys. And they have wifi. We went every day, even twice one day to eat fresh bread and research for Nepal.

On Wednesday we flew through Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu. We were unimpressed with Malaysia Airlines, mostly because of the service. They ran out of chicken meals and brought me a vegetarian meal, but an hour later. And they brought Riki a tall glass of vodka when he asked for a beer, without anything to mix with it. So that was weird.

We arrived very late in the evening in Nepal and luckily the power was on and we got our visas pretty quickly. Getting our bags was a trip, just as we had heard. It is very hectic around the baggage claim. People with carts crowd the belt and it’s almost impossible to get to the front. But as soon as Riki had sent me off to check another belt, our bags arrived. We made it to our hostel and spent the next day wandering around Thamel looking for a trekking guide and supplies.

And this is where it gets awesome. Very conveniently, we arrived in the midst of Dewali/Tehar/Dipwali (known by a variety of names here), which is a big four day festival. For this festival, everyone decorates their buildings with lights. When we flew in, we could see all the lights, on almost every building. Incredible for a place known for its power outages. They must have saved up their power for this festival because we had no problems with power outages during these days. They also make incredible rice/sand pieces to invite the goddess of wealth into their homes. We walked around for hours looking at these and watching little kids go around from house to house asking for money.

Very early the next morning, we took a bus to Pokhara, the second largest city in Nepal. This 8 hour trip cost $7 and travelled along the highway, which was more high then way. It was barely two lanes (one each direction) and really bumpy. Sometimes we were very close to the edge. Other times, it was so bumpy we were actually bounced completely off our seats. Luckily they were soft and we didn’t hit any traffic jams. We have heard horror stories of people trapped on the highway for hours because of accidents. And it’s the only road.

We checked into a really nice family run place in Pokhara and spent the afternoon checking out the trekking agencies. That evening, still during the festival, the sidewalks were filled with people dancing. We stopped at numerous places to watch individuals and groups dance in front of the gathering crowds. Riki really enjoyed this and there are probably a hundred pictures from this night.

Because of the festival, the permit office was closed and we were not able to leave as early for our trek as we had hoped. This was fine by us, as we had plenty of time and wanted to see what the festival was all about. Saturday we did a short trek uphill for two hours to the World Peace Pagoda. We only got a little lost and ended up finding a troupe of monkeys. They were fascinating and we also probably have a hundred pictures of them. They were drinking from a small pond and had tiny babies with them. Eventually we made it to the top and had an excellent view of the city. The clouds even cleared a bit and we could see the Himalayas.

In August, there was a large landslide right under the pagoda and a few people died. The remnants are still very visible. We walked down a ton of steps (for practice for our trek) and found a boat at the bottom to take us back across the lake to Pokhara. That evening we found a ton more dancing on the sidewalks.

On Sunday, we returned to one of trekking agencies and arranged for a guided 5 day trek to Poon Hill for the next day. We spent the afternoon shopping for hats, gloves and provisions (including Snickers bars, which are big with trekkers).

 

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Note the initials. They knew I was coming.

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Wrapping up N. Vietnam….Back to BKK, Thailand

We spent a couple of days back in Hanoi.  The first day back happened to be the 60th anniversary of kicking the French out of the city.  We had seen the preparations for this for over a week.  There were lanterns all along the streets and lights up everywhere.  And there were flags.  Lots of flags.  And you know how much Riki likes flags?  I’m guessing there are 100 pictures of flags.  I will spare you most of them.  That evening, we wandered down to Hoan Kiem lake just in time for a parade (of course we found a parade).  There were dancing dragons, colorful ladies and lots of music.  We hung around the lake for a few hours and were joined by perhaps the entire population of Hanoi.  The fireworks, which Riki had read were going to be modest because they were being paid for by the city, were the best ones I’ve ever seen.  Lots of huge, loud ones and incredible shapes.

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The next day we checked out the National History Museum and Revolution Museum.  The Revolution Museum was a lot like Cuba’s in that there was not much explanation, but lots of artifacts.  For instance, the cup so and so drank from that time he ate at this place.  And the jacket he wore that other time he went to this other place.  See how much I learned?  We did some research after we went to fill in the blanks.  The History Museum had a lot of really cool old artifacts, metal pieces, old tools, etc.

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The following day we headed for Ho Chi Minh’s stilt house.  He refused to live in the palace and had a traditional house built out back for himself.  The people really like that.  On our way we got a bit lost, but found a lake and this guy giving haircuts along a main road.IMG_0522.JPG

We found a few places with balconies overlooking the hectic streets.  I think these were Riki’s favorites.IMG_0521.JPG

 Our last day in Hanoi we did some shopping (or just browsing really) and went to our new favorite restaurant to eat our new favorite dish, Highway 4 with carmelized coconut and pork.  Pricey for Hanoi, but our meal was still under $15.

We had a quick flight back to Bangkok on Air Asia.  Our flights were only $60 each way.  Definitely worth the trip to Northern Vietnam to catch the good weather.

Back in BKK, we strolled down this canal to the Golden Mount, a free view of the city, with lots of bells.

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I may look awkward, but these monks on mobile devices were too funny.

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Sometimes I get ahold of the camera and bad things happen.

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Flower pictures, as requested.

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We really like taking the ferries down the river.  They are fast, cheap and cleaner than the buses.

Next stop, Ayutthaya, the ancient capital.

 

Rain & Iguanadons….Bangkok

Day 4

Began with an early morning rainstorm, as previously mentioned.  We then ventured to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (wat=temple).
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We took the free English tour and learned just as much about our tour guide as about the palace and temple (38, learned English from Harry Potter, loves to touch ladies, & single – shocking).imageimageimage

We finished our tour, complete with our first Wat & shoe-removing experience just in time for the afternoon rainstorm.  Our umbrella has started struggling at this point, but we make it without getting too wet.  Our parents, mine in particular should note that we spent almost 4 hours at a religious facility.  This may be a record, but it does include the visit to the textile museum, which was really cool.  The Queen started an organization to bring Thai silk back into practice to provide jobs and money for struggling rural economies.  It was pretty successful and there are beautiful silk garments and tapestries now from an industry that was dying out.

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We were intrigued by the textile museum and continued our silk tour at the Jim Thompson house.  He was an American architect who promoted Thai silk around the world and revived trade outside of Thailand.   He disappeared mysteriously in Malaysia, but his house was turned into a museum.  He combined 7 Thai structures into one to make his house.

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There were lots of animals at his house.

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Living and nonliving.

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This kitten was passed out in various locations while we were there, including the lap of one of the guides, who gave him a Thai massage.

Across the canal are two of the original silk making facilities from Jim Thompson’s time.  They still produce the cloth on big wooden looms and will show you the whole process.  If we have any money left at the end of our trip, we intend to go back and buy something here.

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There are no pictures after this as we left the museum to go to the nearby Vietnamese Embassy to pick up our visas.  Along the way, it started to rain.  And then pour.  And not the usual 15 minute afternoon shower.  This was torrential.  Seeing that we had to be there between 4 and 4:30 to pick up the visas, we had no time to wait out the rain.  We trooped on with our fading umbrella and skimpy poncho.  Never occurred to us to get a taxi.  Nope, we haven’t yet, why start now?  I was very proud of my waterproof shoes, until I realized that they won’t stop the rain that runs down your ankles from getting into your socks and then into your shoes.  So my feet were a full 5 minutes drier than Riki’s. Success.  And then his dried out faster.  Fail.

We took the cheap bus home, which was full, and hot, and slow.  The traffic is really bad for about 3 hours every afternoon.  The umbrella has been retired. Fail.

Day 6: Today

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Still need to identify these canal creatures.  Iguanadons as Riki is calling them.

I forgot to mention that they LOVE their king and queen here.  There are pictures everywhere, along the street, in the buildings, in our hostel.

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Riki loves flags.

With our tickets from the Grand Palace (500 baht) from the other day, we also got tickets to a bunch of buildings in the Dusit area.  The first building was the Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, which has a very impressive exhibit on artifacts made for the king.  The building was pretty amazing as well.   Riki tells me the king who built these buildings prevented colonizing by western countries because he was already so modern as he had gone to school in England.

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What is not so modern about this building is the dress code.  While I was completely covered, shoulders, ankles and all, I am now the new owner of a rather stiff and almost mauve colored sarong.  Riki was wearing the same clothes as me, but no sarong for him.

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Oh well, it was 50 baht (less than $3) and I can use it as a beach towel, maybe.

We couldn’t take pictures inside, but there is a crazy dragon chandelier covered in green shiny beetle shells.  Then we went to another textile museum, where we learned to differentiate between northern and southern Thai patterns.   Also with our Grand Palace ticket, we were granted entry to the Vimanmek Mansion Museum.  We had a free English guide for the large teak home of the former kings, but she really only wanted to talk about the gifts in the rooms that were given to the king from around the world, not the building or rooms.  It was incredible, but also, no pictures allowed.

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Fish in a canal.

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There are these little shrines all over the city and when people see Buddha they bow slightly and clasp their hands together in front of their chest.

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 We have started playing I-SPY an Asian animal.   Mostly cats, sometimes dogs, toads, iguanodons, fish, cockroaches, really strange sounding birds, etc.  You can play along too.

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Sights, sounds & smells….Bangkok

Its 5:30 am, Bangkok, Day 4. That’s early you say. Well yes, but its pouring and the clang of the rain on the metal roofs around us is deafening. At least to me. Riki is out cold. This is the first rain we’ve had, despite it being the rainy season. So that’s lucky. We were going to get up early anyway to go to the Grand Palace, just not this early.

We arrived in Bangkok Sunday morning at 5:30, like I said, that’s early. Having had the brilliant idea to sleep only a few hours Friday, so we could sleep on the plane Saturday, neither of us managed to doze off at all on the plane. Luckily, there were lots of movies and no screaming children. We flew Thai Air and were not impressed. Turkish Airlines had friendlier service and better food. It was still above average though, and if you fly first class (which we did not) they have a fully reclining seat. We did really enjoy the flight attendants’ uniforms, which were semi-formal Thai suits and all different.

Needless to say, when we arrived at our hostel before 7 am, we were exhausted. The reception wasn’t open and the person on duty managed to communicate that we could leave our bags and come back to check in at 1 pm when our room would be ready. So that’s what we did.

View from our room
View from our room

We are staying just north of the large backpacking area centered around Khao Saan Rd and so we headed that way, like walking zombies. There are no pictures from this day, as I don’t think Riki had the energy to get out his camera. We wandered down toward the Grand Palace, where we discovered it was Car Free Day, where we encountered thousands (and I’m not exaggerating) of people riding bikes to a large park, Sanem Luang. This made it incredibly difficult to cross the road and we kind of shuffled/sprinted our way through the bright green-shirted swarm. It was still too early for anything to be open, so we meandered from park (I use this term loosely) to park looking for a comfy bench. These are hard to come by. We finally found a nice shaded (did I mention its hot?) spot of grass among some older ladies doing their morning stretching and managed to doze off for a minute, or less.

Later, we went to check in and took a quick 6 hour nap.

Day 2: Embassy & Hospital

We took the bus to the Vietnamese Embassy, which is a success in itself, as there are about 100 bus lines and no real map of where they go.  So we got one in the right direction and the ticket taker told us when to get off.  Oddly, the bus we took cost 6.5 baht (~32 baht = $1) but we have yet to see a .5 baht coin.  But since we are two, I guess we won’t.  We turned in our passports and application (2500 baht each) and headed out on to their embassy row in search of the Red Cross.  Having just decided to add Nepal to our itinerary, we were lacking in the Polio vaccine department and read that the Red Cross administers them for $20.  Well we found the anonymous Red Cross clinic, but that turned out to be mostly for AIDS testing.  A nice American guy working there who had lived in New Orleans for awhile pointed us in the direction of the Red Cross Travel Clinic, which is literally right next door to a snake farm – they share an entrance.  We did not partake in the snake farm and were turned away at the clinic because they only had a combo Tdap-polio, which we had both just received.  This is why we ended up at the hospital.  Sorry if you were expecting more drama.  We walked right in and were escorted to the appropriate clinic.  An hour later and $30 poorer ($2 for the polio drop, $3 for hospital fees,  and $10 for the doctor – each) out we went.  We were really impressed with the system and I will attribute the efficiency to the all-female staff (except for a pharmacist, who we didn’t need).  We wandered back up to the shopping district, where we ate dinner for $4 total and caught the same bus back to our hostel (this time it was free, apparently sometimes they are free).

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Day 3

First stop this day was to get Riki a hair cut. A $2.50 hair cut.  He looks a bit like the monks they have all around here, but no orange robe.

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Then we took a water taxi ($1 for two) for about half an hour to the south.  We meandered back up through Chinatown and were particularly fascinated by the car parts area.  So, if you want to buy any kind of metal for your tuk-tuk or motorcycle or car, there is a street, well more like a large alley where there are heaps and heaps of car parts.  I’m not sure how they find the right one, but maybe they just hammer one and melt it until it fits?  We passed through the flower market, which is an incredible economy in itself.  It is hard to imagine how 50+ vendors all selling the same thing in one place makes sense but that’s how it is with a lot of things here.

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We stopped at Amorosa bar for a drink and to watch the sunset.  Highly recommend, though the drinks are more expensive ($4).  We watched the sun set over Wat Arun and met a nice British couple.  When we were leaving the man tried to pay for our drinks because “it’s so nice to see Americans get out, because you don’t have to leave.” To which I replied, “you don’t have to leave either,” which may have been a bit harsh because I’m sure he meant well, but he was at least 6 Beefeaters and tonic in.  Anyway, we ended up walking home because the boat stops running at 6:30 and we couldn’t find out where the bus stopped (fail).

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Some more images below.  Sorry they are not in order, but our Ipad is not cooperating.  I could rant for an hour about the backwards way we have having to do everything because Apple products are stupid.

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We have yet to identify this 5′ river monster.image image